Responsible business, not casino capitalism

As social entrepreneurs, what are we to make of the current UK politicians' spat about whether the various parties are pro- or anti- 'business'?

I've always been an entrepreneur.  While still at school I started a disco with 3 friends – we owned the equipment between us, equal shares – and on going away to university I set up a little business selling pocket calculators (then new and like gold dust).  I recognise in myself nearly all the qualities normally associated with entrepreneurs (good and bad!).  I am, in one party's jargon. 'a wealth creator'.  But in my 20s I discovered social enterprise.  The idea that you can use business models and methods to make everyone's lives richer is to me much more powerful than making yourself rich in merely material things.  And I'm not a-typical.  Let's be clear:

  • The vast majority of business people actually don't get filthy rich – they just run good businesses providing useful products and services, mostly well integrated in their local communities
  • The vast majority of businesses in the UK are very small – 95% of them have under 10 employees
  • For most of us, entrepreneurialism is not about greed – it's about non-material personal achievements – and about a third of us actually put achieving good social outcomes for others before making money.

The problem with the pro- or anti- 'business' political spat is that 'business' is not just one thing - and there is a world of difference between the vast majority of mainly small businesses and the literally filthy rich world of multinational banks and corporates.

Only Lord Myners (not somebody I would normally quote!) made the important distinction between responsible business and casino capitalism:

“Labour is pro-responsible business.  It will promote an environment that is consistent with effective competition; it will challenge abusive monopoly behaviour, take steps to promote competition where customers are being disadvantaged (for instance, in retail banking) and promote long-term investment rather than the casino capitalism that has disadvantaged the UK’s economy and social cohesion.”

But nobody, as far as I know, has been pointing out that social enterprise is not some half-baked idealistic alternative to capitalism, but real entrepreneurs proving day in and day out that business models based on ethical behaviour and social impact work better than business models based on greed and exploitation.  Social enterprises such as Cafédirect have over many years consistently taken market share from multinational companies that devote themselves exclusively to growth and profit.  Ethical investment funds regularly outperform funds that deliberately set out to invest only for maximum return.

We can do business better than 'business'.  And we do it, to paraphrase Cameron, not despite being ethical, but because we are ethical.

Interesting side-light on

Interesting side-light on this blog piece - looks like many of the recent 'business leaders' that signed the Telegraph letter supporting Tory business policy were actually long-time Tory supporters and funders - but here are some other insights into some of them...

  • Rooney Anand    Chief executive of Greene King.  Greene King is embroiled in a long-running legal battle to prove the legality of a controversial tax avoidance scheme.
  • Surinder Arora    Multi-millionaire chief executive of Arora Hotels.  Member of the New Enterprise Council, set up in 2007 by then shadow chancellor George Osborne.
  • Lord Bamford    JCB chairman and Conservative life peer.  Has donated £86,249 to the Tories as an individual but JCB has donated £3.7m since 2001.
  • Baroness Brady    Conservative life peer, Tory small business ambassador.
  • Zameer Choudrey    Chief executive, Bestway.  Made a £2,500 donation to Beaconsfield Conservatives. Bestway also donates, most recently giving £8,000.
  • Glenn Cooper    Chief executive of ATG Access.  Appointed by David Cameron in 2013 to work on an EU regulation review.
  • Peter Cullum    Executive chairman Towergate and founder of Towergate Underwriting Group, listed as a “regulated donee” on the Electoral Commission website, donating £15,000 to Conservative/Unionist members of the 1922 committee.
  • Bob Dudley    BP chief executive.  American citizen.
  • Mark Esiri    Founder of Venrex.  Close friend of David and Samantha Cameron.  Helped to coordinate the sale of Smythson in 2005, which resulted in £430,000 payout to Samantha for her shares.
  • Peter Grauer    Chairman of Bloomberg.  American citizen; Bloomberg Europe has donated more than £240,000 to the Tories.
  • Philip Green    Chairman of Carillion.  A large chunk of Carillion's business is in public sector contracts.
  • Michael Gutman    Executive director of Westfield Corporation.  Australian citizen.
  • Andy Harrison    Chief executive of Whitbread.  Paid £6.4m last year.
  • Aidan Heavey    Founder of Tullow Oil.  British ministers including the then Foreign Secretary William Hague “lobbied strongly” on behalf of Tullow Oil after it became involved in a tax dispute in Uganda; has donated £61,000 to the Tories.
  • Oliver Hemsley    Founder and chief executive of Numis.  Has donated £75,000 to the Conservatives, £5,000 to Boris Johnson.
  • Vernon Hill    American chairman, Metro bank
  • Cassie Hutchings    Chief executive of GCH Capital.  Cassie's father, Greg “Four Jets” Hutchings, is chairman of GCH and a Tory donor.  He resigned from the engineering group Tomkins in 2000 in the wake of allegations over his use of corporate jets, helicopter, etc.
  • George Iacobescu    Chairman and CEO of Canary Wharf Group.  Canary Wharf has donated £135,200 to the Tories, £40,000 to Labour and £14,000 to the Lib Dems since the last election.  Iacobescu was knighted in 2011!
  • Luke Johnson    Chairman of Risk Capital Partners.  Johnson previously added his name to a 2010 list of business leaders writing in support of the Tories, and complained about the 2010 increase in capital gains tax.
  • Nick Leslau    Prestbury, owner of Alton Towers.  Donated £12,500 to William Hague in 2009 , £2,000 to Michael Gove in 2011 and £10,000 to the Tory party in 2012.
  • Sir Cameron Mackinstosh    Theatre producer.  Donated £10,000 to Tory party in 2001, £10,000 to Boris Johnson in 2008, £10,000 to Tory party in 2012, and £25,000 to David Warburton, Tory candidate for Somerton and Frome, in 2014
  • John Morgan    CEO of Morgan Sindall.  Morgan Ashurst and Morgan Est, which later merged to form Morgan Sindall, were named in the Scottish affairs committee's 2013 report as construction companies that were members of blacklisting firm the Consulting Association
  • Matt Moulding    CEO of the Hut Group.  In 2012 the Guardian reported that Hut was shipping products from the US to circumvent VAT.
  • John Neill    CEO of Unipart.  Unipart has won consulting contracts with the NHS, such as £143,059 worth of consulting to Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
  • Jonathan Newhouse    Chief executive and chairman of Condé Nast, holds American and UK citizenizenship.
  • Sir Dick Olver    Chairman of BAE Systems.  Knighted in 2013.  BAE holds government contracts.
  • Tony Pidgley    Chairman of Berkeley Homes.  Donated to Boris Johnson.
  • Nick Robertson    CEO of Asos.  Awarded OBE in 2011.
  • Stuart Rose    Chairman of Ocado and Fat Face.  Made a Tory peer last year.
  • Chrissie Rucker    Founder of the White Company.  Inspiring Women Campaign mentor with Samantha Cameron.
  • Sir Nigel Rudd    Chairman of Heathrow airport.
  • Baroness Shields    Chair of Tech City.  Tory peer and adviser to Cameron
  • Tidjane Thiam    Chief executive of Prudential.  Advisor to David Cameron. Holds Ivorian and UK citizenship.
  • Steve Varley    Head of EY UK, which advises US clients, including Google and Apple, on UK tax avoidance schemes.
  • Matthew Vaughn    Owner of Marv Films.  On the committee of Tory fundraising ball.  Dined at Chequers with model Claudia Schiffer.
  • Malcolm Walker    Founder of Iceland.  In 2012 refused to pay a £2.5m tax bill for a staff trip to Disney World in Florida.  Walker later said he had settled that bill with HMRC, which he said had made concessions "and we’re very happy with the outcome”.
  • Paul Walsh    Chairman of Compass Group.  Former member of David Cameron advisory group. Formerly headed up Diageo, which despite average annual profits of almost £2bn, disclosed £43m a year (little more than 2% of its profits) in average UK corporation tax charges.
  • James Wates    Chairman of Wates.  Awarded a CBE in 2012.
  • George Weston    CEO of ABF & director of Wittington.  A subsidiary of ABF has been accused of tax avoidance in Zambia where ActionAid claimed it had made $123m in profits between 2007-13 and paid "virtually no corporate tax".  Wittington made £900,000 of donations to the Tories between 1993 and 2005.  Trustees of the Garfield Weston Foundation, which owns most of Wittington, were reprimanded by the Charity Commission in 2010 for not considering whether the political donations were in the best interests of the charity.  George Weston is one of the trustees.
  • Nick Wheeler    Founder of Charles Tyrwhitt.  Invested in the same Icebreaker tax avoidance scheme as Gary Barlow.
  • Hossein Yassaie    CEO of Imagination Technologies.  Knighted in 2013 new year honours.

I see a more extensive

I see a more extensive exposure of the letter's signatories has appeared in The Guardian - more on this here.